When WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy finally decided to put the offense in the hands of Jeff Tuel, the stage was set for the Cougars to finally get their first Pac-10 win. Continuing that with multi-receiver sets is important.
Through two years and three games, no WSU football fan would have used the word "bold" to describe the play calling style of offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy.
There were times in 2008 when we wondered if the team was even trying to score, as WSU saw its long consecutive game scoring streak come to an end. In 2009, Sturdy compensated for a sieve of an offensive line by keeping in extra blockers, such as running backs and tight ends, who were predictably terrible at trying to stop defensive ends.
The first three games of 2010 brought more of the same: Power formations with Jeff Tuel directly under center. Paul Wulff has made no secret of his desire to have a balanced attack, and Sturdy carried out that directive to a T, as WSU actually had more rushes than passes through the first three games, despite averaging just a smidge over 3.0 yards per carry in that time.
After going 1-2 with a squeaker of a win over Montana State, something had to change. And against USC, it did.To everyone's surprise -- probably most notably Monte Kiffin -- tthe Cougars came out winging the ball all over the field. Rather than try and slow down the USC pass rush with more blockers, WSU put more receivers into patterns, using zone routes to attack Kiffin's famous Cover 2. After running on 55 percent of plays in the first three games, that figure dropped to 25.5 percent against the Trojans.
The overall numbers will tell you the offense was no more successful against USC than it was against the previous opponents -- averaging just 4.8 yards per play, much worse than the 5.7 it posted against SMU the week before with the power formations.
However, overall stats don't always tell the whole story. The numbers were much better in the first half until Kiffin and his superior athletes adjusted. And for the first time, there was some legitimate excitement about what we were seeing on the field -- this was something that could be built on.
The offense was still hit and miss the rest of the year, but Sturdy's bold move to completely revamp the offense in a week was a move that allowed WSU to hang with Oregon for three quarters, eventually paid off with the Cougars' first Pac-10 win in nearly two years, and also very nearly led to a victory in the Apple Cup.
The key players in that attack -- Tuel, Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter -- all return in 2011, and Sturdy would do well to keep the same aggressive posture with the passing game. The ability of the offensive line to shove defenses around is still highly questionable, and the tight ends are an unknown quantity outside of Andrei Lintz, who was hardly a game breaker last year.
But the receivers have a tremendous amount of depth, and Tuel is expert at making quick decisions and delivering an accurate ball. Continuing to put the ball in his hands as much as possible is this team's best strategy for scoring points going forward.
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